Wheelchair lifts: a quick guide

People with disabilities have often struggled to get easy access to buildings they need to enter. For their part, building owners can sometimes struggle to make buildings accessible, especially in cases where the building's footprint doesn't allow installation of a wheelchair ramp or where wheelchair users may have to use internal stairs. A wheelchair lift can solve that problem, either by making access to the building easier for wheelchair users or by helping them move between floors internally. If you're thinking of installing a wheelchair lift in a building, you'll see that there are many to choose from -- but which type is the right one? There are four main types of wheelchair lifts, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. 

Enclosed car lifts

An enclosed car lift is the type of passenger elevator you might find in any tall building: a fully-enclosed car within a shaft. Although installation is complex, these can be a good choice for taller structures, as other lifts seldom ascend more than a few floors. 

Platform lifts

These lifts are simpler than enclosed car lifts, consisting of a small platform raised and lowered by a mechanism underneath it. Platform lifts are very varied; some are almost like enclosed car lifts, with roofed lift shafts and sliding doors, while others are simple one- or two-metre lifts with open tops and swinging doors. Platform lifts can be added to the exterior of a building or used as an internal lift between floors or levels. 

Stair lifts

Stairs can present a serious obstacle for wheelchair users unless a stair lift is available. These lifts consist of a track installed along a wall (or, in some cases, on a series of freestanding posts). A wheelchair platform moves along these rails, helping users and their wheelchairs get up and down easily. Some lifts have an integral chair for people whose mobility difficulties prevent them climbing stairs; these won't be as suitable for wheelchair users, since someone else will have to carry the wheelchair. 

Portable lifts

Although wheelchair ramps and lifts are becoming more and more common in Australia, many locations still don't have them. If a wheelchair user needs to move between levels somewhere without a permanent lift, a portable lift can come in handy. These small lifts are great for raised platforms, especially for spaces like the front of a stage where it isn't possible to install a permanent lift. Although they are portable, they're not exactly small, so consider the areas where your portable lift is most likely to be used and plan to store it nearby. 

Each type of wheelchair lift has strengths and weaknesses, and which you choose will depend not only on the layout and construction of your building but on the needs of its users. Understanding the variety of lifts will help you pick the one that's right for your building.